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BBBAAAAAWWWWW is the sound they make…. that's descriptive enough, right?

I do this thing called “going back to college after 5 years” so every now and again, I have an essay to write. Recently I had to do an ethnography on gaming, and chose to do mine on Paw live streaming playing King’s Quest VII.

This essay is solid B+ material, and would have probably warranted an A if I had referenced some of the readings we’ve done.

I decided to put this here since, in my view, it was a successful paper, and it might be  an entertaining read for some people… even Paw said it was “Good stuff!” so, my ego bolstered, here you go:

Meta-Games in a Socialized Single Player Game

“It looks like you could use a hook,

Too bad you have an empty book”

Video Games have always been a social experience: crowds at arcades, best friends, MMOs – gamers love to share games, even single player games.  Years ago, a gamer would have the benefit of one “backseat gamer”: someone to tell the player when to jump, refill health, or look out behind them; someone to write down the password, or remember key facts; someone to suggest a puzzle solution. Now, with the internet making it possible to connect with people around the world, people have found new ways to share video games: the live stream them.

“Paw” and “PushinupRoses”, the internet handles of two video contributors for That Guy With the Glasses (http://www.tgwtg.com), decided to stream a play-through of “King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride” – a single player graphic adventure game published by Sierra Online in 1994. Along with Paw, and a few other people commenting along to the game (in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fashion), there was a chat room where friends and fans (roughly 80) could also comment along.

I observed a few interesting things

“Who can name the most references” seems to be the name of the game, especially in the chat. A common shout would be “Put [item] in mouth!” a reference to a play-through of “Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge” (done by Paw, “LordKat”, and a few others) where the solution to a puzzle was to “Put gem in mouth”. Some people would reference other games: mentioning characters, events, and quotes from games outside of the King’s Quest Series. More often than not, however, the reference would be to someone (or something someone said) within the That Guy with the Glasses contributor community. While it was all in good humor, in the chat room there seemed to be two competitions going on:

1.)    Who could make the most references

2.)    Who could get Paw et al. to mention them

I say this only because there were users in the chat room who would not talk outside of these references. While many carried on conversations with each other, breaking off now and again to “shout” something at the commentators, there were others who spoke in nothing but references, prefacing their comments with: “Paw” or any of the others’ handles.

It wasn’t a game with a qualified winner, except, maybe in the “player’s” head.

Paw had his own game outside the game as well. Besides the game of being “Paw” – a personality, playing up the traits and jokes he knows his fans will expect from him, (clearly a form of mimesis) was the “Death” game.

Using his own knowledge of the game and the series, Paw was able to predict (fairly accurately) when the character he was controlling would die (a common occurrence in these games). In the name of “just because” Paw would often have the character perform certain tasks, or purposefully fail at certain tasks, to see as many deaths as possible.

While there were a few times when these deaths came as a surprise, the attitude was more often “Let’s see how this is going to kill her”. For example, there was a wheelbarrow missing a wheel. The game makes no mistake in hinting that you need to somehow fix it. Still Paw knew the series well enough to know that he would be able to use the wheelbarrow in its broken state, leading the character to careen off a cliff.

Part of the fun of this was to see what hint the game would give to help you avoid making the same “mistake” twice (after a death, a box with the character’s picture would appear, and give a hint like “Broken wheelbarrows don’t go in a straight line”).

While that could seem a bit repetitive, and boring to watch, the chat room immediately launched into a well know stream game called “The [x] Count”, [x] being the repeated action, whether purposeful or not. In this case, it was The Death Count, and when Paw would let the character die, the chat room would race to update the count.

The most interesting Game outside of the game that developed though was The Hint Giving game.

In order to understand this game, you must understand the game.

“King’s Quest VII”, like all the other games in its series, like many of the Sierra games at the time, like any game that called itself an “adventure” game, involves puzzles. Lots of puzzles. But perhaps not the kind of puzzles you think of nowadays.

As mentioned before, a solution to a puzzle in a Space Quest games was to (type) “Put gem in mouth”; this action allowed the character (Roger Wilco) to put the gem he was carrying into his mouth and light a dark tunnel while having both hands free.

A notorious puzzle from the very first King’s Quest game involved solving a riddle issued to you by a small man: You have to guess his name.

“Rumplestiltskin” right? Well, yes and no. The game gives you a hint, to think backwards, and three chances*, and if you get it wrong, you die.

“King’s Quest V”’s solution to an angry yeti that wants to kill you is to throw a pie at it.

In general, the puzzles two solutions:

1.)    Use everything you have with everything else until it makes something useful

2.)    Talk to everyone no less than three times

Which never stopped anyone from getting stuck when, for example, your main character seems to have a problem bending at the waist.

Paw became stuck in a town called Falderal – a cutesy/whimsy place with more references to Mother Goose rhymes than you can shake a stick at. A piece of cheese had fallen from the sky, onto a little chicken, and bounced into a fountain. It was obvious that this wheel of cheese was necessary to solve a puzzle later on in the game (rule number 1 of adventure games, according to Paw: “Take everything that isn’t nailed down, and if it is nailed down, solve the nail-removing puzzle”). However, the character he was controlling could not bend at the waist to pick it, or even extend her arms.

“Use stick on cheese” did not work. A frustrated Paw began to try everything he had in his inventory on the cheese. Then he tried combining his items together to see if they formed anything. They didn’t.

Then, someone in the chat said:

“It looks like you could use a hook,

Too bad you have an empty book”

Paw groaned. “If that’s the answer…” he muttered as he began to backtrack through the game to get to the first level (and sang the “backtrack song” – a reference to one of his videos).

There he met a mouse, a mouse he dealt with earlier in the game, when he was first in that level, whose schtick was that he spoke in iambic pentameter, and traded items with you.

Taking a clue from the small couplet, he offered the mouse the empty book.

“Ah-ha you offer me a book!

I’ll get my finest Shepherd’s Crook!”

This one episode is indicative of the many times Paw needed help because the puzzles were a bit obtuse, and every time the chat room, and commentators who knew the solution would never say it, they would simply hint at what it was.

Admittedly, some people in the chat room would say the answer, and they were often ignored, as it was seen more in the spirit of the game to give a little or big wink to the solution (“My, that shield is nice and round, if only it didn’t have that spike…”) but never lay it out (“Look at the shield to remove the spike and put it on the wheel-barrow that’s missing a wheel”).

Interestingly, this is in stark contrast to a later stream Paw did of “The Silver Lining” – a fan made King’s Quest sequel (9). Part 3 was just recently released when Paw decided to stream playing the game, a game he hadn’t already played; a game he, and most other people, didn’t already know all the answers to. The game outside the game then became much more interactive. The chat would scroll quickly with ideas about things to do, people to talk to, places to go, etc… and there was a different level of excitement when references to older games were made (Such as a popular character from King’s Quest VI, The Rotten Tomato). Nidoking also participated, this time primarily in the chat room, and this time, when stumped with a puzzle, and Nidoking knew the answer, he was allowed, or felt comfortable enough with the newness of the game, to state the answer, no hint.

It’s an interesting little division, between the need to beat the game, and the need to beat the game in the spirit of the game. As long as the game is old enough to have a nostalgic quality, to have been beaten, to be familiar to many people, then the helpful hint system is preferred.

The newer and more unfamiliar a game is, the more likely it seems that the player, after exhausting all their own facilities (their own mind, and in this case, the chat room’s suggestions), will want to find the answer as directly as possible.

To me the most important aspect of the social single player game is how much everyone involved cares about the spirit of the game being played. Without anyone saying so, hints were given instead of answers, death counts were tallied instead of assaults on the player’s skill.

Because there is no room for an official second player, the other people watching become an extension of the first player. Because there is no competition to beat the game faster than, or more completely than Paw, the other observers felt more inclined to help.

Another interesting thing I noticed is that through this form of playing a game, primarily explorer personalities joined in the game. There is only one person playing, and since, as I suggest, the other people watching become an extension of (or, in a sense, play vicariously through) the first player, the achievement (beating the game) is shared; there is no one to lord your superiority over by beating the game.

Since the player(s) expected the character to die… a lot… and that death did not cause anyone grief, there was nothing for a killer personality to do. Even if they had planted misinformation to cause the character’s death, there was no guarantee that Paw would see it, or act on it.

As can be expected in a case like this, many social gamers came out, to talk about their favorite contributors, gossip, and talk about the game being played, and other games, and life, the universe, and everything.

It seemed, though, that many people happened to also be explorers. One person on the stream was considered the “expert” and would mention actions that the player could take that they might not have known about otherwise (such as telling Paw about the possibility for a “humorous death”: by avoiding a conversation with a character that players naturally talk to when first entering this town). People in the chat room with no knowledge of the game would often suggest things to do, just to see if it was possible, and what would happen.

Gamers have a reputation for being solitary, anti-social people, and yet a community managed to form around one person playing a single player game. Better than just forming a community, they found a way to play along, within the spirit of the game.

 

* The correct answer is actually “Ifnkvohgroghprm”.

Paw’s Stream of King’s Quest VII: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/12899663

Paw is a video contributor for That Guy With The Glasses: http://www.tgwtg.com

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